My Path to Spiritual Burnout
Energizer Bunny for Jesus
I wasn’t your typical teenager or even the average church kid. I was pretty radical about my faith. To avoid distractions, I asked my parents to disconnect the cable in my room. I got rid of my TV completely. Instead of a gaming system for Christmas, I wanted a leather bond NIV Life Application Study Bible. At one point, I took apart my bed and started sleeping on the floor. I didn’t want to be tempted to sleep in and miss praying in the morning before school. I also thought this would be an excellent way to prepare myself in case one day I had to sleep on the ground on the mission field. All of this was done, not out of religious duty, but out of genuine love for God.
In my senior year of high school, I started a Christian club at my Christian School. Which I know sounds silly. Especially since we already had chapels, daily devotionals, and classes that began with prayer. Our unofficial slogan was, “We put the C in B.C.S. (Bethany Christian School).” That kind of lets you know what our perspective was if you weren’t in our club.
I also got special permission to miss school during lunchtime to speak at Christian clubs at other high schools in the area. Even sports were just another opportunity for me to share my faith. After pickup basketball games in my neighborhood, I would hold the ball and make everyone wait to play the next game until after I shared my testimony and gave an altar call. This full itinerary doesn’t include the small groups, prayer meetings, retreats, and leadership gatherings I also attended at church. You are probably starting to see that I was a little Energizer Bunny for Jesus. But how long could I keep this up?
I continued this same zealous routine in college. On my first day on campus, the front page of the school newspaper read, “LSU Ranked #1 Party School.” One of my friends posted this in his room like it was a badge of honor. I saw things differently. University wasn’t a place for me to prepare for a career or make memories. It was a mission field that needed to be conquered (The Seashell Message got me).
Even when my grades suffered, I still made sure I was at church every time the doors were open. I volunteered for our church more than most people work while in college and I still worked full-time. I never stopped to ask myself if something was out of balance. At this point, my family tried to intervene. They asked me to slow down with the church involvement. I just thought they were outsiders who couldn’t understand my passion.
Was Something Wrong?
I missed out on many typical aspects of the college experience because of the time and energy I devoted to my spiritual pursuits. For example, one weekend, a friend of mine and I decided not to eat until we had read the entire New Testament. Another time I had a ticket to LSU’s first football National Championship game in over 40 years but gave it up to go on yet another retreat.
There were benefits to some of this, but it was also very much out of balance. I limited my class load to the bare minimum to be more involved with church activities. I went to youth services and stayed out late in revival meetings many times the night before an exam. This limited class schedule caused me to go into debt even though I was on scholarship because I had to attend an extra year of school to complete my requirements to graduate. These were all sacrifices I was happy to make at the time. “Onward Christian Soldier!”
When a Good Thing Becomes a Bad Thing
After graduating from LSU, I joined the church staff. Working at the church kept my ministry plans moving forward even though I was becoming increasingly exhausted from years of a demanding religious routine. My weekly schedule had enough church meetings to fill most senior pastor’s month. I was doing good things but had the nagging feeling I wasn’t being true to myself. The busyness could only cover up the restlessness in my soul for so long.
I had to learn that a good thing could become a bad thing when it is taken to an extreme. Healing needs to take place when we are producing out of insecurity or a need to be recognized. I did not know it at the time, but I was manifesting all of the symptoms of codependency (see the 5 attributes in this blog). I was a religious addict who was using spiritual activities to mask insecurity and wounds that needed emotional healing. Without being properly addressed, people like me end up hurting themselves and others. I experienced these consequences first-hand in multiple ways. At the time, my identity was more connected to what I did for God instead of who I was in Christ. It was hard to see that I was speeding towards a cliff of religious disappointment.
Right Ladder, Wrong Building
What started as a passionate love relationship with God had become a high-performance machine of religious production. It provided a way for me to be elevated and achieve my goals, but at what cost? I had become proud, critical, and generally spiritually unhealthy. Eventually, I would reach the top of my ladder only to realize I had leaned it against the wrong building.
This experience was like a spiritual carbon monoxide poisoning. I wasn’t aware the air I was breathing was becoming toxic. Perhaps I was too busy to notice my first love had been exchanged for the trap of religious performance. I was naturally driven, which made it even easier for me to fall into this pit. Even though the signs were already warning me as I started my adventure in full-time ministry, it would be another seven years before I changed course.
Time to Believe Again
Eventually, I decided to make a U-turn before running into a brick wall that could have ended in disaster. For me, that looked like stepping away from full-time ministry when it appeared everything was going great. The result was over two years of working in the secular world and attending church as a member instead of a staff member or leader. You may wonder why I would make that kind of change like, but that decision forever changed how I view God, church, and people. It is from those experiences that I wrote the book Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion.
The book is written much like this blog post. Each chapter is a short essay where I share a story from this incredibly uncomfortable but transformative season of life. Believe Again will be a great help for those who have experienced church hurt or spiritual burnout. If you know someone who has gone through something like this then please order a copy of this book and give it to them. They will laugh, identify with the story, and hopefully find inspiration to begin again in their faith.
Use this link to order Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion in paperback or Kindle edition.